Behind the scenes #14 | Can founders be replaced as CEOs?





An Arab proverb suggests the greatest wisdom comes from knowing oneself, and though this may sounds like a hollow truism, in the world of business it makes perfect sense – especially when we think about our role in a startup which is being established or already exists.
Today, we will do our best to talk about more than just building organizations – we will focus on sensible approaches to your own competencies and predispositions. We are of course coming at this from our own unique perspective, which doesn’t mean it is the one and only point of view which counts. Yet, we are coming at this with 30 years of experience in building up companies, hence we’ve had plenty of time to learn the markets and develop effective practices.
TDJ Pitango Ventures team

Can founders be replaced as CEOs?

We know that this question is for many of you a little like Shakespeare’s “To be or not to be” – during our conversations, you often wonder if it is appropriate for a founder to be replaced by a manager, and if so, when might this be… Allow us to reply with one of the least satisfying answers possible: “That depends”.
It depends on time, development, competence… and desire. When a startup begins operating, you serve a critical role in its development. The idea is yours, and so you build up the company, the team, with responsibility for each and every process resting on your shoulders. This is a massive challenge, something which will grow with time: your organization will continue evolving, as you enter new markets and take on new activities which will keep on coming at you as your time at the top goes on. This is when you will have to consider: am I still doing my best in this role? Will this project continue to succeed if I continue to oversee its growth based on my previous experience and competencies?
In the early stages of its development, your startup is like a small yacht upon which you – the captain – can easily handle the crew, navigating and catching the best winds in your sails. Time will come, however, when there will be so many of you onboard, and the cargo so heavy, that you will have to move on up to piloting in an oceanliner. This is when the skills and experience of a yacht captain may not suffice. Some founders grow along with their businesses, and are ready to take the helm of a mature organization. But not all. There are those who simply don’t want to go that far and simply wish to handle another part of the journey. If this is a shared decision, this is the best and most appropriate time to bring a market professional onboard. What then happens with the founder who has until now been in charge of the whole vessel? He’ll stay on board, but move on to the Management Board or focus on tech and R&D, for example. These are the changes it is worth discussing with your investors, who will then advise and maybe even help draw the best available talent to your organization.

Having one of the founders as the CEO is the default and expected setup. However, we should always think about what’s best for the company. If, for any reasons, at some point in time, having a professional CEO is better for the startup, it should be considered very seriously. Wojciech Fedorowicz
We can get inspiration from the old scriptures. In the quest to transition from slavery in Egypt to freedom, the Israelites’ CEO – Moses – diligently led the nation through 40 years of wandering in the desert. But he was not the one designated to enter the Holy Land. Joshua the Judge was a far better fit to conclude the task of settling in the land. In some cases, the CEO to start is not the same one that handles the next steps. Please exercise extreme caution when changing captains. It’s fragile, so handle with care.Daniel Star

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